Q4. What were the reasons for political tensions within Europe which ultimately led to World War I? OR. Explain the basic reasons for the conflicts between European nations from the late nineteenth century to the early years of the twentieth century
There were six major powers in Europe at this time—Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia, France and Italy. Besides the conflicts resulting from rivalries over colonies and trade, there were conflicts among the major European powers over developments within Europe. A complex network of political and military alliances was maintained throughout the continent by 1900 to maintain balance of power.
One of the questions which almost all these countries got involved concerned the countries of the Balkan Peninsula. The Balkan countries had been under the rule of Ottoman Turks. However, in the nineteenth century, the Ottoman rule had begun to collapse. There were revolts by various nationalities for independence. The Russian Czars hoped that these areas would come under their control once the Ottomans were ousted from there. They encouraged a movement called the Pan-Slav movement which was based on the theory that all the Slavs of eastern Europe were one people. Many areas in Austria-Hungary were inhabited by the Slavs.
Russia, therefore, encouraged movements both against the Ottoman empire and Austria-Hungary. The major Balkan country, Serbia, led the movement for uniting the areas inhabited by the Slavs in the Ottoman empire as well as in Austria-Hungary. The Serbian nationalism was encouraged by Russia. Other major European powers were alarmed at the growth of Russian influence in the Balkans. They wanted to check the Russian influence, while Austria Hungary had plans of expansion in this area.
Corresponding to the Pan-Slav movement, there was a Pan-German movement which aimed at the expansion of Germany all over central Europe and in the Balkans. Italy claimed certain areas which were under Austrian rule. France hoped to recover not only Alsace Lorraine which it had lost to Germany in 1871 but also to wreak vengeance on Germany for the humiliating defeat that it had suffered in the war with Germany in 1870-71.
The conflicts within Europe and the conflicts over colonies mentioned earlier had begun to create a very tense situation in Europe from the last decade of the nineteenth century. European countries began to form themselves into opposing groups. They also started spending vast sums of money to increase the size of their armies and navies, to develop new and more deadly weapons, and to generally prepare themselves for war, Europe Was gradually becoming a vast armed camp Simultaneously, propaganda for war, to breed hatred against other countries, to paint one’s own country as superior to others, and to glorify war, was started in each country.
The opposing groups of countries formed alliances which not only added to the danger of war, but also made it inevitable that when the war broke out it would assume a worldwide magnitude.
European countries had been forming and reforming alliances since the nineteenth century. In the first decade of the twentieth century, two groups of countries or alliances, emerged and faced each other with their armed might. In 1882 the Triple Alliance was formed comprising Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy. However, Italy’s loyalty to this Alliance was uncertain as her main aim was to gain territories in Europe from Austria-Hungary and in conquering Tripoli with French support.
Opposed to this alliance, in 1907 Triple Entente emerged comprising France, Russia and Britain. In theory it was only a loose group based on mutual understanding as the word ‘Entente’ (meaning ‘an understanding’ indicates). The emergence of these two hostile camps made it inevitable that a conflict involving any one of these countries would become an all-European war. As the aims of the countries in these camps included the extension of their colonial possessions, an all-European war almost certainly would become a world war. The formation of these hostile camps was accompanied with a race to build more and more deadly weapons and have larger and larger armies and navies.
A series of crises took place during the years preceding the war. These crises added to the bitterness and tension in Europe and engendered national chauvinism European countries also entered into secret treaties to gain territories at the expense of others. Often, these secret treaties leaked out and fear and suspicion grew in each country about such treaties. These fears and suspicions brought the danger of war near.